Arts and Culture

Documentary on Coal Industry and Clean Energy Spotlights Denver

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The trailer for National Geographic's From the Ashes, a documentary that spotlights Denver among other cities, depicts an ominous political and social battle brewing between opponents of "the war on coal" and advocates of "coal's war on our health."

Although the film argues for renewable energy as an alternative to the dangerous consequences of coal-induced air pollution, director Michael Bonfiglio explains, "We tried to explore as many sides of coal as possible. We looked at employment, economy, public health issues, and really tried to cut through to people on the ground who are actually being affected by all of this."

From the Ashes shows the devastation that many coal towns have faced in recent years after cutbacks, and also looks at the economic benefits of local clean-air efforts. "Currently, there are about 51,000 coal miners in the States, while jobs in renewable fields like wind and solar are ballooning to over two million," explains Bonfiglio. "Energy is driven by the market, not by politics, and the way of the future in the market is renewables."

From the Ashes uses Denver as an example of a city that has struggled with significant air-pollution issues –– it even placed in the top ten smoggiest cities in 2015 –– but has also made strides toward investing in renewable energy. The number of wind turbines in the region has doubled since 2009; we've reported on how clean-energy jobs have boosted Colorado's economy as well as Xcel Energy's decision to convert many coal plants into natural gas.

The 250-megawatt Golden West Wind Energy Project near Calhan has added well-paying jobs to Colorado's struggling rural economy. - E2.ORG/RICHARD WILSON
The 250-megawatt Golden West Wind Energy Project near Calhan has added well-paying jobs to Colorado's struggling rural economy. Wilson
Bonfiglio notes that many other cities are following Denver's lead, despite opposition from Washington. "The fact that Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accords is startling, yes," he says. "But part of the film's point is that this is bigger than any one politician or administration. Real changes are happening on the local level because people are starting to see that this makes the most sense economically and for health reasons." Denver is just one of many cities that has publicly agreed to make efforts to meet the standards of the Paris climate agreement.

"It would actually be economically feasible to convert all of the country's energy to wind, solar and geothermal," says Bonfiglio. "It would be a moon-project type of task," he adds, but it would generate mass amounts of jobs and stimulate the economy.

Bonfiglio hopes viewers take away at least one main message from the film: "There is a false premise that we need to choose between jobs and public health and/or the environment. That's just not true." Investment in the renewable sector could lift many devastated coal communities, he notes: "People in the coal industry cannot be forgotten."

From the Ashes airs on the National Geographic network on Sunday, June 25, and a full trailer is available online.